44°F
weather icon Clear

‘Angel’ is rewarded after fatal crash leaves 4 kids without a caretaker

Some mornings, Lucille McKnight runs her fingers over the brown shaggy carpet beneath her body, the pain in her back and chest slowly waking her up. Beside her, the two toddlers sleep nestled between a stuffed unicorn and tiger, pillows and some blankets — the closest thing they’ve had to a bed in months.

“How did I get here?” she wonders.

Christine Modica, 3, holds up a stuffed animal in the bedroom she shares with her great-aunt, L ...
Christine Modica, 3, holds up a stuffed animal in the bedroom she shares with her great-aunt, Lucille McKnight, at their home in Las Vegas on Wednesday, Dec. 11, 2019. The family is slated to receive a full set of furniture for the home as part of Walker Furniture's "Home for the Holidays" giveaway. McKnight has been looking after Christine and her three siblings since July, when their grandmother and caretaker died in a car crash. (Chase Stevens/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @csstevensphoto

In July, the 50-year-old woman with mounting health problems took in her niece’s four young children, after their grandmother and sole caretaker, Rose Mary Modica, died in a car crash.

Out celebrating their Nana Rose’s birthday, the kids, between ages 2 and 10 at the time, were in the car. All four were hospitalized with injuries ranging from a collapsed lung and a head gash to broken arms and spinal injuries. The most severely injured underwent several surgeries and was in a physical rehabilitation center until mid-November.

Within hours of the July 9 crash, McKnight was at the children’s bedsides. By then, the Modica siblings — Christine, Noel, Lennie and Herman — had been in the foster care system for three years, their mother homeless and addicted to drugs and their father incarcerated on a pending domestic battery case.

With nowhere else to go after their grandmother’s death, McKnight agreed to take custody of the kids despite already having three teenagers at home, adopted in 2013 from another niece.

“Even though everything was telling me not to, I had to do it,” she said this week during an interview at her southwest Las Vegas home. “Nobody’s stepping up, you know, nobody’s offering to help, so I just gotta do what I gotta do.”

Inspired by her selflessness, her partner, Kyle Turpin, nominated McKnight last month for Walker Furniture’s 26th annual “Home for the Holidays” furniture giveaway.

“She has gone through so much,” Turpin told the Las Vegas Review-Journal this week. “It’s amazing to me that she would go to sleep on the floor, wake up the next morning and continue forward.”

In his nomination letter, Turpin wrote, in part: “I truly believe that Lucy’s humanitarian efforts should be rewarded because, without her, these children would be thrown into the foster care system and separated from one another for God knows how long. Lucy McKnight has been an angel for these kids in every way.”

Enclosed in the letter, the 65-year-old Las Vegas resident included a copy of a Review-Journal story published in mid-July documenting the children’s recovery and McKnight’s decision to take in the children.

On Tuesday morning, McKnight got a call from Walker Furniture. She was selected as one of 35 local families to receive furnishings for her entire home.

The furniture will be delivered Friday morning — the first of the 35 deliveries this year, according to Jackie Brett, a Walker Furniture spokeswoman.

“Your coverage along with the letter helped spell out McKnight’s story,” Brett said Thursday in an email to the Review-Journal.

Inspired by Lucille McKnight's selflessness, her partner, Kyle Turpin, sent a nomination letter ...
Inspired by Lucille McKnight's selflessness, her partner, Kyle Turpin, sent a nomination letter to Walker Furniture's "Home for the Holidays" giveaway. McKnight took in her niece's four young children in July, after their grandmother and caretaker died in a car crash. (Walker Furniture)

Ongoing investigation

McKnight said Walker Furniture was expected to deliver a living room set, end tables, a dining table with four chairs and a bench, lamps, beds and dressers.

“This is my room right here,” McKnight said Wednesday, opening a white bedroom door to reveal an empty room, save a pile of neatly folded blankets, a few pillows and some stuffed animals.

Christine Modica, now 3, ran to the toys.

“My unicorn, my unicorn,” she yelled. In the crash, Christine suffered a collapsed left lung and a broken right arm.

Christine was out of her cast as of Wednesday but was still dealing with the emotional aftermath of the crash. Each therapy session, according to McKnight, the girl’s therapist reminds Christine that her grandmother has died.

“Nana Rose break her leg,” Christine said Wednesday when asked about her grandmother. “She in hospital.”

McKnight says the siblings are dealing with the loss of their grandmother differently. Herman, 11, “has completely shut down.”

“He won’t even talk about it,” McKnight said.

On the day of the crash, the children were out with the grandmother celebrating her 56th birthday.

It was just after 10 a.m. when they piled into her Toyota Camry, headed to the store, when all of the sudden, according to Herman, the car picked up speed on Washington Avenue, near Decatur Boulevard, as they entered a marked construction zone. Witnesses have said their grandmother was speeding, honking and yelling as if she couldn’t stop.

The sedan sped over an open trench in the construction site, colliding into a work truck. Spinning out from the trench, the car then slammed into a nearby dirt berm and momentarily became airborne before hitting a skid-steer loader.

Two recalls for 2007 to 2010 model Camrys were announced in 2009 and 2010, respectively, for floor mats and accelerator pedals. Both were announced after reports of unintended acceleration.

The day after the wreck, a Las Vegas police spokesman said fatal traffic investigators would use any retrievable car data to determine whether a malfunction was a contributing factor. As of Thursday, the official cause of the crash still had not been determined.

‘I’m not going to complain’

At the time of the crash, McKnight thought she’d only have the children until their mother, Thylicia, got back on her feet. A few days after the wreck, their mother had checked herself into a yearlong drug and alcohol rehabilitation program.

But my mid-October, according to McKnight, her niece had left the program and was on the verge of losing her parental rights.

McKnight, who put her life on hold to take care of the four siblings, is now faced with the decision to adopt them.

“Knowing the person that I am, I’ll probably adopt them. But when I tell you I’m terrified —” McKnight said, trailing off. “I’m 50. It wouldn’t be as scary if I was younger. I have health problems, and right now I got a muscle strain in my chest from picking them up. I just have to be more careful.”

Christine now calls McKnight “Mom.”

Shortly before the crash, McKnight had launched her own screen-printing and design company, Katalyst Tees. But now, raising the kids — who all have their share of behavioral problems due to fetal alcohol syndrome — is her full-time job: daily therapy appointments, doctor visits, school and homework.

In addition to those daily responsibilities, McKnight said she is working hard to provide them, for the first time in their lives, a stable home environment that she hopes will help reverse their behavioral issues.

“I’ve got a lot of complaints, but I’m not going to complain,” McKnight told the Review-Journal this week ahead of the delivery, “because it could be worse. I could be out in the projects, but even though we’re sleeping on the floor, we’re in a nice house and the kids are in a nice school and in a nice neighborhood.”

Contact Rio Lacanlale at rlacanlale@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0381. Follow @riolacanlale on Twitter.

Don't miss the big stories. Like us on Facebook.
Local Videos
1 person dies in three-vehicle crash in south Las Vegas - VIDEO
Las Vegas Boulevard South reopened Wednesday morning, nearly seven hours after a three-vehicle crash left one driver dead and another seriously injured, according to police. (Bizuayehu Tesfaye/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @bizutesfaye
1 person killed in south Las Vegas Valley crash - VIDEO
One person was killed and another was injured in a three-vehicle crash on Las Vegas Boulevard South near East Warm Springs Road, Wednesday, Jan. 22, 2020. (Glenn Puit/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Shooting at Las Vegas Fashion Show mall injures 3 - VIDEO
Three people were injured Tuesday night, Jan. 21, 2020, in a shooting at Fashion Show mall. (Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Touro University Nevada student says demonstration saved her life - VIDEO
Student Erica Stiles describes how her cancer was found during a classroom demonstration. (Mary Hynes/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Scouts BSA troop takes part in day of service - VIDEO
Members of Las Vegas Troop 155 with Scouts BSA painted a fence and picked up trash as part of a day of service at Spring Mountain Ranch State Park west of Las Vegas on Monday Jan. 20, 2020. (Elizabeth Page Brumley /Las Vegas Review-Journal) @elipagephoto
Incident with 'suspicious device' resolved - VIDEO
Lt. Zachary Burns of the Las Vegas police department's armor section gives an update on the suspicious device found at a Saver's store in the 2300 block of East Tropicana Avenue on Monday, Jan. 20, 2020. (Glenn Puit/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Elderly woman robbed in Fremont elevator - VIDEO
An elderly woman was robbed in an elevator on the 300 block of Fremont Street. Video courtesy of Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department. (James Schaeffer/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Martin Luther King Jr. associate speaks to Las Vegas students - VIDEO
Robert Green, 86, a Las Vegas resident and close confidante of Martin Luther King Jr., talks to students at Matt Kelly Elementary School in Las Vegas. (Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Helicopter pilot continues long recovery after Grand Canyon crash - VIDEO
Scott Booth, a former pilot for Papillon Grand Canyon Helicopters, talks about piloting a Papillon tour helicopter when the aircraft crashed in Grand Canyon in 2018, killing five of the six passengers. (Erik Verduzco/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Annual eagle survey at Lake Mead and Lake Mohave - VIDEO
The National Park Service gets out on the waters of Lake Mead and Lake Mohave each year to count any raptors they lay eyes on. The birds are at the top of a food chain, so monitoring their numbers over time can help indicate if problems are occurring with the environment and the rest of the chain below them. (Ellen Schmidt/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Wrong-way driver causes fatal crash near Las Vegas airport, authorities say - VIDEO
A suspected impaired motorist driving the wrong way on the Airport Connector caused a crash that killed another driver near McCarran International Airport early Friday morning, Jan. 17, 2020, according to law enforcement. (Glenn Puit/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Las Vegas police give details on officer-involved shooting - VIDEO
Las Vegas police identified the officer and show body cam video of the officer who discharged his weapon at a suspect accused of shooting his mother at a credit union, Friday, Jan. 17, 2020. (Renee Summerout/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
1 person killed in wrong-way crash near Las Vegas airport - VIDEO
A wrong-way driver struck another vehicle, killing that driver, on the Airport Connector near McCarran International Airport early Friday, Jan. 17, 2020. (Glenn Puit/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Sombrero wearing pigeons found - VIDEO
Sombrero wearing pigeons found in Reno by City Manager Sabra Newby during a ride-along with parking enforcement. (Renee Summerour/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Alpine fire first responders recognized
MedicWest paramedic Miranda Smith describes the the scene when first responders arrived at the Alpine Motel Apartments fire.
The car that Tupac was shot in is for sale - VIDEO
The vehicle that legendary rapper Tupac Shakur was riding in when he was shot after a boxing match in Las Vegas is up for auction. The black 1996 BMW 7 Series is listed by Celebrity Cars Las Vegas for $1.75 million. (Angus Kelly/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
SUV crashes into art piece at Eastern and 215 Beltway - VIDEO
Artwork of a giant head was sent rolling when an SUV slammed into the artwork installed on a median at Eastern Avenue and the 215 Beltway in the southern Las Vegas Valley on Saturday morning, Jan. 11, 2020. (B.J. Calomay)
Alpine residents struggle to find new housing after fire - VIDEO
Many residents displaced by the Alpine Motel Apartments fire in downtown Las Vegas say they are struggling to find long-term solutions in a region where affordable housing is in short supply. (Michael Quine/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Biden meets with Vegas Latino community - VIDEO
Presidential candidate Joe Biden met with members of the Latino community at Rancho High School. (James Schaeffer / Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Margaret Rudin's first interview after release from prison
Convicted killer Margaret Rudin maintains her innocence in her first interview after spending 20 years in a Las Vegas prison for the murder of her husband, Ron Rudin.
Locals cheer on James Holzhauer at 'Jeopardy!' watch party - VIDEO
Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. But James Holzhauer would have a better chance at winning “Jeopardy! The Greatest of All Time” tournament if Ken Jennings would stop copying his aggressive betting strategy. (James Schaeffer / Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Henderson, other Nevada cities consent to refugee resettlement - VIDEO
Henderson will continue to welcome refugees for resettlement, according to a December letter from Mayor Debra March. (James Schaeffer / Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Ceremony held for Elvis artist Trent Carlini - VIDEO
A ceremony was held for Elvis impersonator Trent Carlini on Wednesday night at The Space in Las Vegas. (James Schaeffer / Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Las Vegas bus attack caught on video
Video released Metro shows two men talking on a bus on Dec. 13, 2019. A few seconds into the video, the younger man stands up and punches the older man in the face. (Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department)
Fire at Bella Vite Apartments in central Las Vegas - VIDEO
No one was injured in a fire at Bella Vita Apartments, near West Flamingo Road and South Decatur Boulevard, early Wednesday, Jan. 8, 2020. (Glenn Puit/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
North Las Vegas police release details of first fatal officer-involved shooting of 2020 - VIDEO
North Las Vegas Police Chief Pamela Ojeda discusses details of the departments first fatal officer-involved shooting for 2020. (Michael Quine/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
One person injured in car crash outside Dutch Bros - VIDEO
One person suffered minor injuries in a crash Monday morning outside a southern Las Vegas coffee shop that left one vehicle on its side and another propped up on the overturned car. (Heidi Fang/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Las Vegas resorts welcome dogs to stay
Las Vegas properties are welcoming dogs more than ever. MGM Resorts International announced a new dog-friendly program across all of its Las Vegas properties in December. (K.M. Cannon/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @KMCannonPhoto
CES 2020 Sex Tech
What sex technology to look out for this year at CES 2020 Las Vegas
Las Vegas police respond to multi-vehicle crash with serious injuries - VIDEO
Las Vegas police are responding to a multi-vehicle with serious injuries near a Henderson park on Wednesday evening. (James Schaeffer / Las Vegas Review-Journal)
2020 New Year's baby born at Sunrise Hospital - VIDEO
Marquis Johnson Sr. and Latasha Atkinson talk about their newborn baby, Marquis Jr., at Sunrise Children's Hospital in Las Vegas, Wednesday, Jan. 1, 2020. Marquis Jr. was born a few seconds past midnight to be the first baby of 2020 at Sunrise. (Erik Verduzco/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Palos Verdes fire on New Year's Day - VIDEO
A fire broke out in an apartment building on Palos Verdes near Spring Mountain Road in central Las Vegas early Wednesday, Jan. 1, 2010. (Glenn Puit/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Fremont Street is getting a new LED sign - VIDEO
The Fremont Street Experience is planning to add an LED sign that pays tribute to downtown Las Vegas’ history. The 430-square-foot sign is set to be built on the east side of Main Street and Fremont Street. (Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Ethel M Chocolates cactus garden lit for Christmas - Video
The 26th Annual Ethel M Chocolates Cactus Garden Lighting in Henderson, Tuesday, Nov. 5, 2019. The garden will be open until 10 p.m. daily through the holidays. (Rachel Aston/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @rookie__rae
Therapy dogs dress up for Halloween at Poets Walk Henderson - Video
Therapy dogs dress up for a Halloween costume contest at the Poet's Walk Henderson Memory Care facility. (Nathan Asselin/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
THE LATEST
How you can design a wall at Area15

Area15 is putting out a call for young Las Vegas artists to design the walls of the soon-to-open experiential entertainment complex.